Weekend routine (mid-pandemic edition)

My weekends have fallen into a routine that is neither perfect nor exciting, but it’s comfortable. Much of my off time ends up in the home office, where my personal laptop actually fits into the same dock I use for the work laptop.

It’s probably not a great idea to spend my relaxation time in the same place where I slog through work. But the home office is still my personal space, with a futon sofa and most of my books and arts/crafts materials stashed there. The dogs love the space. Frannie comes in with her gaming and talks Animal Crossing and Pokemon strategy. And I can stream Korean baseball and other video on the big screens. It’s become my happy place, and it helps make work tolerable on rough weekdays.

A typical weekend goes something like this.

Saturday morning: Having biscuits and other breakfast food that C brings home from Chick-fil-A. Then listening multiple times to “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” and maybe other NPR programs either on terrestrial radio or, more likely, the TuneIn Radio app.

Saturday afternoon

** Catching up on Korean baseball, usually with Jason Benetti doing play-by-play, off the ESPN site. I don’t really keep up with the KBO at a detailed level, but I like how the games and the baseball chatter keep me pleasant company while I read or write. Like right now, as I write this. Even when MLB starts up again, I like the idea of having these games on whenever I like.
** Surrounding myself with books, which I may or may not read at length.
** Streaming other video. Sometimes Twitch feeds of Anthony Bourdain shows, Animal Crossing play, or even Bob Ross programs. Other times, YouTube with Catholic videos, Stephen Colbert reruns, or Animal Planet shows; I’ve become fond of “The Vet Life” lately.
** Writing email, snail mail, and/or blog posts. Maybe posting to Facebook (which I’ve done more – weekends only – than I have in a long time, which still isn’t a whole lot).
** Lying down to relax the chronic pain in my lower back (and shoulders and neck).
** Sifting through the piles of printouts and books in the office and bedroom, and filling up the recycling bin.
** Sometimes heading to our parish for confession and 5 p.m. vigil Mass.

Saturday evenings: Dinner, maybe a round of Cards Against Humanity (Family Edition), or maybe a fire with s’mores in the backyard.

Sunday morning: Attending early Mass (if I haven’t gone to the Saturday vigil Mass), then reading/praying through the “Celebration of the Word” liturgy with F when I get home. (F eventually will accompany me to Mass, but not right now.) After that, breakfast – either pancakes at home or hitting a local diner, with the Sunday papers in tow.

Sunday afternoon: Either a Sunday drive for all of us, or a jaunt through a forest preserve for F and C and the big dog while I stay home to relax my back. (See Saturday afternoon activities.)

Sunday evenings: Same as Saturday evenings, plus possibly some catching up with editing work after everyone else goes to bed.

It’s not thrilling or exotic, to be sure, but it works for me. And it’s not like we’re going anywhere this summer, so this is probably my weekend blueprint for a while.

A hazy day of recovery

I can cross “Have a colonoscopy” off my bucket list now.

Good news: My innards are fine. Even got a bonus stomach scan upon the doctor’s recommendation (after he called to make sure my health insurer would cover it). Except for a tiny stomach polyp that he sent out for an evaluation – he said it’s unlikely to be much of anything – that scan largely turned out okay.

The not-so-good news: I’m not at 100 percent today. Still feeling the after-effects of the sedation. The nurses repeatedly told me, “You’re going to have the greatest nap of your life,” and they were right. I tried to forget the fact that they used Propofol, the stuff that killed Michael Jackson.

Chris said I slept pretty much through the night, which isn’t often the case. But I still woke up groggy, and sitting up made me woozier.

The doctor and nurses also warned me I might have a sore throat from the stomach scan that went down my throat, and soreness arose last night and continues to linger.

On top of that, the abdominal cramping is back, albeit in a mild way. Funny thing is, I experienced no such pain during the past day and a half of a clear liquid diet and intestinal purging. The cramping returned after I started eating again. Starting to think it’s time to go back to the kind of low-fat diet I tried immediately after my gallbladder was removed. And maybe start curbing my dairy intake.

So, as I said, I’m not at 100 percent. I was hoping to log back into work by noon, but I went ahead and called in sick for the whole day. Glad I did. The post-sedation haze I expected has lasted well into the afternoon.

A good time for comebacks

It somehow seemed appropriate to return to Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi (or the eve of Corpus Christi, as I attended the Saturday vigil Mass). Our parish, under guidance from the archdiocese, began offering Sunday Mass last weekend, but I didn’t feel ready to return then. But it was time this weekend.

Started out my Saturday afternoon at church in a makeshift confessional, set up in the parish cry room, I guess to allow for easier disinfecting after each confession. After four months in an inert spiritual state, it felt good to “get back on the wagon,” as the priest put it, and start fresh with God’s grace.

I was allowed to stay for the 5 p.m. Mass, and that gave me a half-hour to sit and realize how much I missed being in church. I also realized how much I need a more breathable mask.

The experience wasn’t ideal in a few respects: I couldn’t really hear the priest well, I forgot to wear the beret headcovering I use in church, I forgot to bow before receiving, and I received in the hand (like the archdiocesan rules said I had to) when it turned out that plenty of people were able to receive at the communion rail on the tongue, as I prefer. I felt out of practice. But I was still glad to be back.

The Sunday obligation remains suspended in our archdiocese, but I’m going to try to keep going – and I might even try to hit a weekday Mass here and there. In the meantime, I’m not going to take F with me until the obligation is in place again and the pandemic rules are relaxed a bit. And then I have to set up time with the pastor to see when she can begin receiving the Eucharist.

F and I have been using “Celebration of the Word” handouts and her new subscription of Magnifikids! from Magnificat magazine each Sunday morning to read through the Liturgy of the Word, pray, and learn a bit about feasts and other things that I thought she learned in her Episcopal Catechesis of the Good Shepherd lessons (but didn’t!). She seems to be connecting with this Sunday time more than she tended to at services in our old Episcopal parish, so I’m in no hurry to stop it.

It’s been a good weekend to contemplate God and start over with Him. Deeply grateful.

A tiny woke spot in suburbia

There’s an anti-racism and anti-police protest in my leafy, suburban, and largely white town. The husband biked over there after finding out the city asked businesses to close and board up around 3 p.m.

He saw maybe a couple of hundred people. I asked if he spotted any actual people of color, and perhaps firearms. Yes to people of color, no to firearms. There was one white kid who tried to stir things up with cops, yelling “Fuck the police!” or whatever, but Chris says he was mocked.

I appreciate those who sincerely mean well in speaking up. But I’m having a hard time not being cynical. I read the law-and-order posts from the residents who ask why the cops and National Guard can’t show up and shoot looters on site. I see the occasional quizzical look at me at school functions. It’s hard not to be jaded, even with video that Chris texts me of people honking in support of this quaint crowd of people lining a main artery of our town.

That said, most of the protesters appear to be kids of different colors, probably from the local high school and/or liberal arts college. Some of them probably have parents who whine about law and order on Facebook; doesn’t have to mean they do. Nobody appears to have guns, nobody’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt. They hold signs that say “Justice 4 George” and “White people, do something.”

I don’t know. Maybe there’s hope. As long as looting, agitating trolls don’t come out after dusk.

Time to "Do Nothing" -- and rise up against the "attention economy"

Reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell and enjoying it immensely. (It was one of President Obama’s favorite books of 2019. I miss having a president who reads.)

How to Do Nothing is less a manifesto on laziness and more a call to re-evaluate the cult of productivity and what I would call the tyranny of distraction posed by corporate social media.

The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.

One thing Odell laments is the lack of context provided when people bark opinions and “facts” at one another in a state of constant distraction, not only benefiting corporate social media, but feeding the cult of “personal branding.”

… the villain here is not necessarily the Internet, or even the idea of social media; it is the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction. It is furthermore the cult of individuality and personal branding that grow out of such platforms and affect the way we think about our offline selves and the places where we actually live. …

I see people caught up not just in notifications but in a mythology of productivity and progress, unable not only to rest but simply to see where they are. And during the summer that I wrote this, I saw a catastrophic wildfire without end. This place, just as much as the place where you are now, is calling out to be heard. I think we should listen. …

To resist in place is to make oneself into a shape that cannot so easily be appropriated by a capitalist value system. To do this means refusing the frame of reference: in this case, a frame of reference in which value is determined by productivity, the strength of one’s career, and individual entrepreneurship. It means embracing and trying to inhabit somewhat fuzzier or blobbier ideas: of maintenance as productivity, of the importance of nonverbal communication, and of the mere experience of life as the highest goal. It means recognizing and celebrating a form of the self that changes over time, exceeds algorithmic description, and whose identity doesn’t always stop at the boundary of the individual. …

The first half of “doing nothing” is about disengaging from the attention economy; the other half is about reengaging with something else. That “something else” is nothing less than time and space, a possibility only once we meet each other there on the level of attention. …

Ultimately, I argue for a view of the self and of identity that is the opposite of the personal brand: an unstable, shapeshifting thing determined by interactions with others and with different kinds of places.

Odell issues a lovely call for nuance, context, and attention away from the “attention economy” that encourages the toxic back-and-forth on Facebook and Twitter, which these companies regard as merely a “bounteous uptick in engagement.”

Just as a series of rooms are dissolved into one big “situation,” instantaneity flattens past, present, and future into a constant, amnesiac present. The order of events, so important for understanding anything, gets drowned out by a constant alarm bell. …

As the attention economy profits from keeping us trapped in a fearful present, we risk blindness to historical context at the same time that our attention is ripped from the physical reality of our surroundings.

It’s a cruel irony that the platforms on which we encounter and speak about these issues are simultaneously profiting from a collapse of context that keeps us from being able to think straight. This is where I think the idea of “doing nothing” can be of the most help. For me, doing nothing means disengaging from one framework (the attention economy) not only to give myself time to think, but to do something else in another framework.

There’s too much great food for thought here, and I’m still reading it. (I recommend you do the same, viewing these snippets in their proper context.) It helps me to jot down notes here (as is the function of a commonplace book, which is part of the point of this site) and think about it all.

My frame of mind, one Wikipedia definition at a time

I started searching for “ambivalence” in Wikipedia (where I found these definitions) and ended up in “asociality.” I imagine that means something.

It's been a weekend

  • ER visit with CT scan and – hooray – new painkillers.
  • Lots of Kindle reading between scans and blood pressure checks and nurse/doctor chats.
  • First decent night’s sleep in weeks thanks to Tramadol.
  • Sunday drive with family along parts of the Fox River.
  • Crazed solo drive to a Jollibee drive-thru that turned out to be closed, followed by a visit to walk-in-only Jollibee with a long line. The bucket of fried chicken with rice, gravy, and peach/mango pies made it worth the lengthy wait, which no doubt aggravated my newly diagnosed sacroiliitis.
  • Long nap on a heating pad with the first of many lidocaine patches on my lower back.
  • Achievement of level 50 in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, allowing me access to the second floor of the cabin I operate in the game. And yes, I worry about myself.
  • First backyard fire of the year, cut way short by surprising gusts of wind and a “pneumonia front” that ended spectacular weekend weather.

And with all this behind me, I’m taking a sick day to make doctor appointments and get more acquainted with my new friends Tramadol and lidocaine.

Unexpected brush with greatness, c. 1998

A friend on Facebook shared a story where he and a mutual friend of ours ran into Willie Mays at a ballpark. He used the anecdote to solicit stories of “unexpected brushes with greatness.” Here’s what I shared.

I was walking down Michigan Avenue with my sister and a friend visiting from San Diego; I think this was in 1998. My sister nudged me and looked over her shoulder.

“I think that’s Tony Gwynn!” she said. I thought she was nuts, but then I remembered that the Padres were in town. I looked behind us and the first thing I noticed was That Laugh – that unmistakable gurgling laugh of his – and then saw him lingering in front of the Nike store, talking to an older guy that I suspect was the Padres’ hitting coach at the time, Merv Rettenmund.

My sister, her friend, and I kept nudging each other to go talk to him, and I finally caved and ran back. Gwynn sighed and didn’t seem thrilled to be recognized, but I still babbled at him about how I was a big fan, that I grew up in Chula Vista but moved to Chicago a couple of years before – to which he replied, “What the hell did you do that for?”

He agreed to sign a copy of a newspaper I had because I didn’t have anything else for him to sign, and this was well before the days of cellphone cameras. And then he went on his way. It was a fleeting surreal moment to run into a hometown hero well out of context of my actual hometown.

Time to feel things. And get help.

A pandemic has a tendency to get you thinking about the things that are really important. Like human connections, particularly in this lock-down-and-stay-home moment. And my own mental health.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the friends I’ve ducked or ignored over the past few years. They’ve deserved way better from me, these friends. One of them — someone I finally reconnected with after pestering them with an email, text, and Facebook message — asked me, “Were you just sick of everybody?”

On one level, maybe I was. On another level, maybe I was just sick of me.

Life gets overwhelming. Even when faith keeps me going, I still want to hide from people most of the time. A long, stressful day of dealing with colleagues and internal clients at work — and there are a lot of those kind of days — leaves me spent and really wanting to be left alone. The demands of the most intense relationships (family) and the demands of those obligations that feel less important by comparison (church, the few people left I haven’t yet alienated) take whatever energy is left. And when I’m stretched thin, anxiety kicks in. And I want to hide, even (or especially) from the people I love and who mean the most to me.

Now, I realize I’m fortunate, that calling this a “struggle” (which I generally avoid) may be laughable, given that a lot of people out there have genuine struggles with health, job security (or job loss), and other issues brought about by lockdowns and such. And when I think about that, the thoughts spiral downward even more.

This is a weird variation of the compulsion to compare one’s life to others — one of the worst hazards of social media. My life’s not so bad, right? I’m paralyzed with anxiety and exhaustion and physical pain, yeah. But hey, I still have a job that I can do from home, I have a family that loves me, and I’m otherwise in reasonably good health. And that all means I’ve no right to blow off loyal friends and turn inward, right? (Okay, blowing off loyal friends is wrong.)

There are articles and blog posts that address this sort of thing. Psychology Today, for instance:

You have the right to feel whatever you are feeling, regardless of what others have been through relative to your experience. Feeling your feelings doesn’t make you ungrateful for what you have; it makes you human.

Compounding these feelings is that we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others. This can be reinforced by society: For example, people tell us about someone they feel has exeprienced more suffering than we have. A friend may mean well when they say, “At least you aren’t in ____________’s situation,” but that invalidates your experience. …

You have a right to feel what you feel, regardless of what others say or how you view your challenges in light of others’ suffering. Everyone has challenges; just different ones. Your challenges are a challenge to you, and that makes them valid. Period.

Chad at the No Stigmas blog makes this point: “Nobody gets to decide who deserves who gets help. Nobody gets to decide who might have it worse.” He goes on (as does the Psychology Today article) to urge the reader to find someone to help you: “If the first person you go to doesn’t help, then go to another, and another until somebody helps you. Somebody will help you. They can’t fix you, but they can help you.” (Emphasis mine.)

Tim Challies, a blogger speaking from a faith perspective, speaks to me most clearly on this topic:

Our God is not some distant ruler exercising indifferent authority over the universe but a present helper in our times of trouble — our every time of trouble. He does not demand that we justify our pains before feeling them or rationalize our tears before shedding them. He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He does not insist our trouble rise to a certain degree or extent before he becomes that refuge and strength. He is at all times and in every situation “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

In your illness, in your pain, in your suffering, don’t immediately compare yourself to others, and don’t feel the need to justify your sorrow before God. Don’t wallow silently and stoically. Turn first to your Father, cry out to him, and receive his comfort.

(I could dive into the whole Catholic theology of redemptive suffering here, especially as it’s smack in the middle of the Triduum as I write this, but that’s for another time. It’s not that I disagree with the idea of redemptive suffering, and many times I take great comfort in it. But right now, advice to “offer it up” — however well-meaning it is — really doesn’t click with me. It will eventually. It usually does.)

So, yeah, I guess I was sick of everybody. And sick of myself.

Time to stop withdrawing and stop trying to suck it up. Time to reconnect, even if it might be risky or painful. Time to find some help.

Giving up the ghost: Not easy to do

In this time of disconnection from the world, I’ve been taking inventory of my friendships over the years. Conclusion: I am a terrible friend.

Perhaps it’s a matter of having a lot of friends “for a season.” But in looking back, I have been lazy about maintaining ties with those who wanted to remain in touch. I’ve been blessed with friends who are diligent with things like birthday cards, Christmas cards, and email.

At one point or another, once it is clear that the gestures only flow in one direction – mine – the cards and emails stop.

Nowadays, this kind of thing is called “ghosting.” And I’ve been ghosting – that is, cutting off all communication with a friend or significant other and leaving that person wondering why – since before it became a thing.

My disappearance off the radar of others is usually unintentional on my part. I like the concept of snail mail and phone calls, but it’s easier to blog or post on social media before descending into my typical passive, inert state. Blame a critical mass of introversion, low energy, and laziness. My focus on my family probably exacerbates all that, but that critical mass existed long before I sprouted a kid.

On top of that, there’s anxiety. (I’m talking about pre-existing anxiety, not COVID-19 anxiety.) I used to love heading into the city to see friends. But the longer I lived in the suburbs, the less I wanted to travel outside my new comfort zone. Heading solo into the city unnerves me now; urban driving scares me, and then there’s the search for parking and concern about break-ins. Never mind that I lived there for 7 years; then again, in those years, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have to worry about parking or anything else related to driving.

So, the more city friends would beckon me repeatedly to see them, the more I felt pressured to do something I didn’t want to do – and when I feel pressured to do something I don’t want to do, I shut down. (This, I realize, is my modus operandi these days.) And then I make like a ghost.

This has happened with at least two or three friends. I’ve tried to make amends with one over the past week, but I’ve heard crickets; I’m not optimistic that I’ll hear back, and I would understand if I never heard from her again. (I’m still working on the others.)

(This behavior, I realize as I write this, probably extends to all the times I’ve traveled to California to see family and avoided telling friends who want to see me.)

The upshot: As a friend, I suck. And I’m sorry to the friends I have hurt by ducking their radar and damaging our friendship.

That said, I don’t apologize for my anxiety. My laziness, yes, but not my anxiety or low energy. It’s just that I could stand to find a better way to handle the latter without hurting those I care about.

Please stop telling me to make this time count

There’s plenty to be anxious about these days. Am I going to catch this virus? Do I have it already, and have I passed it on to anybody? With the aides at my 89-year-old mother’s home allowing visitors this week (despite the California governor’s order not to allow such things at nursing homes), will my mother catch it? What about the rest of my family? And what if Trump still manages to get re-elected, no matter how incompetent he has been during this crisis?

Now I’m starting to see more people online telling us to “use your isolation time wisely,” “make the most of your time inside” and “make that idle time count.”

I know the whole idea of cultivating a “memento mori” mentality, as I was starting to do this Lent before it became coronavirus season, is to develop a sense of urgency in this life. We are to live fully aware that life is too short to waste time. Yes, I get that, perhaps more than ever with this pandemic bearing down on us all.

And yet being told to be productive when I’m so tensed up and paralyzed with fear just leaves me wracked with pressure and guilt. I mean, I’d really like to be productive and make the best of things. But can I have please some time to somehow relax and figure out how to manage this anxiety first?

My Ten: Favorite things I can't live without

I’m a sucker for a light regular feature. The New York Times’ Sunday Routine is an example of this: a weekly feature that profiles New Yorkers and how they spend their Sundays. The Times also puts together an irregular feature, My Ten, that asks celebrities about the 10 favorite things they can’t live without. It’s not an original concept; I’ve seen it in other places, usually as an excuse to work in overpriced merchandise links.

(My Ten is so irregular that it doesn’t have its own page yet; examples include lists from Questlove, David Chang, and Emma Thompson.)

I’ve been wanting to write a Sunday Routine of my own for a while, but it takes time for me to figure out. (Besides, if I wrote one now, it’d be basically a whole lot of sitting around steeped in cabin fever and chronic anxiety.) Right now, a My Ten is easier to slap together.

PEPPERMINT GREEN AND “TURMERIC BLISS” TEAS. I can’t drink coffee as much as I used to, but I still need my caffeine fix. I’ve largely weaned myself off diet soda (except for the occasional diet root beer, which isn’t usually caffeinated, or diet Cheerwine, which is), and I wanted something relatively healthy. So, I found myself turning to tea. I started with peppermint tea, which is not caffeinated, but found several green tea blends with peppermint for my caffeine; Traditional Medicinals and local retailer Nuovo Tea produce my favorites.

I also get my favorite turmeric blend, Turmeric Bliss, from Nuovo (the blend is actually produced by Adagio Teas, not to be confused with a Tazo Tea product with the same name): turmeric combined with ginger, peppercorn, mango, apple, and other fruit and floral ingredients. I credit my daily two cups of this turmeric blend with helping me break my dependence on ibuprofen for pain management, and it’s become a tasty way to wind down my day after dinner.

PILOT G2 PENS, BLACK BOLD (1.0). Austin Kleon turned me onto these. I used the 0.7 fine point version of the G2 for a while, but I find the bold tips much smoother to write with.

INDEX CARDS. I carry around a small Field Notes-type notebook, but I rarely use it for reasons I can’t quite explain. I also carry around index cards (usually of the 4-by-6-inch variety), usually in a small plastic holder intended for photos, that I do use for lists, doodling, and notes; they especially come in handy when I need to give my tween something to draw on during Mass.

MAGNIFICAT and HANDBOOK OF PRAYERS. As I’ve been in Catholic re-entry mode over the past year and still haven’t fully memorized the order of the Mass (I still stumble over the “consubstantial” thing in the Nicene Creed), having the Magnificat to follow along with has been absolutely essential. Paired with my monthly Magnificat, the Handbook of Prayers – produced by Midwest Theological Forum – complements it perfectly with a robust set of prayers and practices, including Marian devotions, the Stations of the Cross, and a good confession guide.

WORKS BY ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA. St. Josemaria’s three books of maxims – The Way, Furrow, and The Forge – provide me with inspiration and encouragement in my spiritual life.

ROSARY. I think the red glass-beaded rosary I carry around was a freebie from one of the numerous Catholic orders or charities that received donations from my mom when I was growing up. But for a freebie, it’s been pretty durable. More importantly, Bp. Joseph Perry kindly blessed it for me when I asked years ago after a Tridentine Mass at St. John Cantius parish in Chicago. It’s been a constant companion the past few years.

“WAIT WAIT … DON’T TELL ME.” I wake up early on Saturdays to listen to the first airings of this NPR news quiz program on the Internet, then download the podcast to listen to it during the week. Some shows are better than others; I’m a little weary of the new hit-or-miss (mostly miss in recent months) panelists that it’s been rotating into the show in recent years, and I miss original panelists like Charlie Pierce and Sue Ellicott. But “Wait Wait” is still a huge part of my weekends.

“LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT.” Colbert’s show is a tonic of sanity in the cultural and political hellscape of the past three years.

SPALDING BOOTLEG YOGA PANTS, BLACK. This $20 wardrobe essential of mine is no longer on Amazon, for some reason. (I just ordered a similar product, at the same price, and I’m crossing my fingers that it’s wearable.) I was smart enough to buy two pairs, but I wish I had ordered more when I had the chance. It’s the closest I get to a uniform item a la Steve Jobs’ turtleneck, especially now that I’m working from home full-time. Comfy and durable.

CROCHET BERETS. This item has become another essential part of my daily uniform. I started wearing these as a head covering for church (chapel veils don’t work on me), and ended up wearing them to work and anytime I had to go out. My hair has been thinning for years, to the point where no amount of gel, volumizer, or other “product” will make a difference in covering bare scalp. These are light enough to wear in warm weather, work in casual contexts, and can class up an otherwise blah outfit.

Welcome to my sandbox

As is his wont, a former colleague of mine likes to create Facebook posts noting birthdays of people in the media. For some inexplicable reason, he posts mine every year. I appreciate it, but I’m not a “media figure,” but somebody who worked in the business for almost 3 decades. Most of us news industry veterans are not famous, and don’t aspire to be.

Anyway, he posted a link to this site, which is fine by me, but chances are it’s not compelling enough to create a following. And it’s not built to have a following, except for friends who might want to know what I’m thinking about or what I’m doing.

I know about my former colleague’s posting because for the first time in a while, I actually put something on Facebook today. Nothing exciting, just the photo of my kid’s delightful birthday card. I used to get scores of birthday wishes – a lot of them, if not most, seemingly rote and gratuitous – when I was active on Facebook, and it fed a weird neediness that bothered me after a few years. Even though I effectively dumped the site from my routine a few years ago, that neediness for birthday attention hasn’t completely gone away; in a way, it’s helped ruin birthdays for me. Last year’s particularly depressing natal day led me to decide to use that day for retreats, and then I forgot about that decision for this year. Maybe next year, God willing.

Fortunately, except for some mild health issues and crankiness related to other matters this morning, today hasn’t been that bad. And I got to thinking that, all in all, I have not missed Facebook, and that having this modest little site as a “sandbox” (to use a college friend’s term for Facebook) is infinitely healthier for me and more fun for a number of reasons:

  • This place has no metrics. Websites, including blogs, typically have ways to gauge readership. Micro.blog, the platform I use here, does not. Attention is not quantified here, so I’m not checking every 5 minutes to see if someone has “liked” a post or provided some witty comment or remark about how brilliant I am. Birthdays aside, I’m grateful to simply have a place – a “sandbox” – to play in.

  • No faceless, corporate social media behemoth is monetizing my content. Hell, I’m not even monetizing my content. That takes the fun out of creating “content.”

  • No comments. I don’t care about replies. I don’t care about opinions of my site. Perhaps more accurately, I don’t want to care about your approval or disapproval. And I am not obligated to provide you a platform for replies, opinions, approval – or especially mansplaining (even from some female friends), which has been a pet peeve of mine long before the word “mansplaining” became a thing. (Users of Micro.blog, which is infinitely more civilized than most social media platforms, are welcome to comment if they like when entries from this site are posted there, but I don’t always engage there, either.)

  • I’m not exposed to others’ political rage and anxiety. Sure, one can mute or unfollow people on social media who won’t shut the hell up about politics. But many of the friends I love the most are the biggest culprits when it comes to such noisemaking.

  • I’m not exposed to others’ annoying social media habits. This includes sharing of memes, lists of “my 100 favorite movies/albums/books/etc. of the past 24 hours,” lengthy hot takes on the news of the day, and personal oversharing.

Granted, I have been guilty of many of those annoying social media habits, and I have learned from my mistakes with them. On my site, I write longer posts occasionally but relegate myself to sharing links and photos and short remarks. Still, I try not to get overly personal; for instance, I no longer share full-face photos of my child (except on Instagram, where I have a private account, and even there I ask for her permission first), and if I’m going through a rough patch, I will turn privately first to my close friends and my God. That is what, in part, they are there for.

With all due respect to those who have found solace and support on Facebook or other platforms, I’ve learned that for me, life and family are too precious to squander in their entirety on the Internet. This site is plenty of space for me.

News consumption sanity: There's steps for that

I live with a lot of panic. Not just because I have lifelong issues with mild anxiety, but because I live with a man who likes to talk a lot about all the crises involving climate change, Donald Trump, and the coronavirus – sometimes as they relate to one another.

Although I share his concerns with all of these topics, I generally cope with it in part by trying to minimize my exposure to news. This is anathema among my former colleagues in the news industry, I know. But even when I worked in news, I recognized how toxic constant exposure in the name of being informed could be to my mental health. Being freed from my journalism career gave me license to avoid news at last.

If I have to choose between being overinformed and being sane, I’ll choose the latter.

Austin Kleon, one of my favorite writers and online life coaches (my term, not his), tweeted this morning: “Honestly, you’d probably be just as informed and much, much saner if you stuck to reading news produced for kids these days.” The New York Times, for instance, produces a monthly news section in its Sunday paper just for kids – that is, probably for kids up to their early teens – and now I read it more than the Styles and Review sections I used to read religiously.

These days, I try to rein in my media exposure for the sake of my peace of mind. Here’s a few steps I’ve taken that seem to help.

  • Use Feedbin. This feed reader allows me to follow Twitter accounts without actually being on Twitter. It effectively isolates me from the toxic back-and-forth that comes with replies. Also, I can subscribe to newsletters and good old-fashioned RSS feeds.

  • Avoid Twitter. See above. I still go there occasionally, but not as much as I used to. If you have to turn to Twitter, turn down the noise by turning off retweets from others and mute freely. That helps me a ton. (The same could be said for Facebook. I didn’t mention it because I’m rarely on it now.)

  • Turn off notifications on the phone. Unless you’re an actual journalist, avoid getting news alerts on your damn phone. The worst part about a lot of these so-called news alerts, at least with Apple News, is that half of the alerts are of dubious value and not really “news.” A 10,000-word thinkpiece on Trump’s disregard for the Constitution might be interesting but it is not breaking news. (This brings up the danger of leaving news decisions to inexperienced nonjournalists and AI and algorithms, but I digress.)

  • Narrow down news sources to reputable, non-aggregator journalism sites. This means no Google News, no Drudge, no deliberately right- or left-leaning sites like Breitbart or RawStory. (Don’t @ me, as the kids say today.) I subscribe to The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times; for the sake of time and sanity, I try to limit myself to those daily. But I also go to NPR and sometimes the BBC, CBC, Politico, even Vox. Also, the Atlantic is producing some of the most thoughtful long-form work online; I’m thinking about subscribing there, too.

  • Select thought leaders carefully. By “thought leaders,” I mean sources of thoughtful analysis and ideas rather than reactive, impulsive “hot takes” on the news. There’s a handful of cultural/political journals I like to check out online: The Bulwark (which can sometimes get into “hot takes” territory), Hedgehog Review, New Atlantis. Also, there’s several thinkers I like to follow on social media: Alan Jacobs, L.M. Sacasas, the aforementioned Austin Kleon. I probably should also count Stephen Colbert, whose nightly monologue is the closest thing I come to TV news. (Also, if you disagree with my choice of journals or thinkers, that’s fine. But in this toxic day and age, I can see people disregarding this advice just because I don’t visit, say, Daily Kos or Salon or Daily Caller. I’m just saying don’t overwhelm yourself with a zillion sources for analysis.)

  • Read real books. Yes, Kindle books count.

There is a certain wisdom in the old rhythm of reading the newspaper in the morning – or the afternoon, back in the really old days when afternoon papers were a thing – and then going on with your life. The 24/7 news cycle that came with the Internet, especially in the age of Trump, has left us beaten down and broken, just as the rising of the seas has eroded shorelines.

Given that, my next goal is to turn off the news spigot more often during my day; my compulsive checking of headlines during work breaks or on my phone – first thing in the morning, while I’m waiting in line, after dinner, and just before I go to bed – is unhealthy and no way to live.

So, to quote another great thought leader, Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. And don’t worry about being uninformed or “woke.” Limiting your news exposure – creating a little silence around yourself – doesn’t leave you uninformed. It’s a means of survival and sanity.

Regrets. During this political cycle, I've had a few.

I was dumb enough to contribute to one presidential candidate who washed out early after demonstrating little substance for all her flash. Then I compounded my stupidity by contributing to another who clearly states there’s no room for people with my views in his party. My deep disappointment with the latter candidate is immeasurable. (And I wish I could get my money back, frankly.) I think I’m done with wasting money on political campaigns.

Although I am not a single-issue voter, the Democrats’ insistence on abortion availability without limits keeps me from being enthused about any of the existing presidential candidates. I don’t see any of the candidates being willing to make room for pro-lifers in their party, except to dismiss them as “anti-choicers” who don’t belong.

I can say unreservedly that I will not vote for the White House incumbent in the fall. Whether I can say for sure that I will vote for the Democratic candidate remains to be seen.

The old “make abortion legal, safe, and rare” stance from the Clinton era doesn’t quite align with my beliefs, either, but at least I could appreciate the “rare” part. Sadly, even “rare” is not acceptable anymore in the Democratic Party.

"He didn't want to be like everyone else. He just wanted to be Neil."

He was in many ways like an outsider — the guy who was often different from everyone else. But that was okay with him. He didn’t want to be like everyone else. He just wanted to be Neil. He loved being a rock drummer, but he also loved literature. He loved poetry. He loved the outdoors. He didn’t care what society thought a rock star was ‘supposed to be’ — he wasn’t afraid to be himself, and he didn’t really care about fame. He just wanted to be good at what he did — and he was! — and he just wanted to share his music with the fans.” — Donna Halper, media historian and former broadcaster credited with getting Rush their U.S. record deal, to NPR News (italics above mine)

I’ve never been much of a Rush fan; I could never get past Geddy Lee’s vocals. But I can understand why so many rock fans are saddened by the loss of Neil Peart. (I watched this unbelievable, nearly 9-minute drum solo twice yesterday and realized that yeah, this guy was kind of a big deal.)

Even more, I find myself admiring his intellect and sense of self as I read more about him. And the outsider thing I emphasized above really, really spoke to me. Even in situations when I was vaguely an insider, I have felt like an outsider. Only now, at this point in my life, am I truly okay with that.

Godspeed, Mr. Brilliant Drummer and Writer I Only Learned About Yesterday.

My 3 Words: Healing, Perseverance, and Silence

Been thinking about Chris Brogan’s recommendation to come up with three words to guide their upcoming year. (H/T again to @Ron on Micro.blog for writing about it!) It wasn’t hard to come up with words – but it wasn’t easy to zero in on which ones to use. I changed them around twice before settling on this year’s words.

Healing. The husband recommended this rather than “Health.” I forget why, but I kind of like this word instead.

“Healing” encompasses the usual diet and exercise intentions, but it’s broader than that. I’ve been dealing with chronic pain – mainly abdominal and menopause-related, but lately spreading to my back and hips – that I handle with multiple doses of ibuprofen a day. (I suspect my doctors are so skittish about opioids that such medication isn’t even an option in their view.) Also, my knees are grinding and probably will require surgical attention. My hunch is that immediate attention to my eating habits will help, followed by a few more breaks from the ball-and-chain work habits I have. And yes, a doctor’s appointment or two are in order.

This word also covers other areas beyond physical health, like mental/emotional and spiritual. All of these areas – physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual health – certainly tie into the next word.

Perseverance. I am generally a lazy sort, which explains my utter lack of physical fitness and desire to retire at age 53. (That, of course, is not going to happen.) However, as I head into my 54th year this spring, my sense of mortality has intensified considerably. I preface any plans these days with “God willing,” and I begin 2020 with a heightened sense of urgency. It saddens me to realize not only how much time I’ve wasted in my life, but how much time I threw away because I dwelled on mistakes made through the years.

As much as I hate football now, I have a favorite player: Philip Rivers, the longtime Chargers quarterback, devout Catholic, and father of 9. He lives by the Latin motto Nunc coepi – Now, I begin. The motto didn’t originate with Rivers, but with Catholic figures such as Ven. Bruno Lanteri and St. Josemaria Escriva. The point, reiterated in Catholic tradition that goes beyond Lanteri and Escriva, is this: Begin again, pick yourself up, no matter how many times you fall. Keep beginning – in all you do, with God, with family, with friends – despite whatever stumbles you’ve made. Nunc coepi.

Perseverance is also a big theme in Catholic tradition and theology. There is “final perseverance,” or the preservation of the state of grace until the end of life. This certainly will play a part in this whole 2020 pursuit of perseverance in my own life, especially given that sense of mortality I mentioned. But perseverance in faith also means imitating God’s perseverance and patience with us; this, Pope Francis has said, strenghtens us not only to keep going, but to help those around us.

All this leads, in a way, to the third word.

Silence. I have spent hours upon hours of my life distracted with time wasters, particularly news media, social media, and other digital dalliances. (I even have a folder of apps on my iPhone called “Time Wasters.”) Largely removing Facebook from my life freed up a lot of brain cells, but that leaves other sources of noise, including Twitter and news websites.

My hope is that this word will guide me to step away from the digital noise, both on a daily basis and with periodic digital “fasts.” There are other ways to observe silence: turning off the car radio, keeping a regular Holy Hour at a local adoration chapel or church, occasional retreats. After seeing how much my anxiety and depression subsided with the end of my Facebook habit, I look forward to pulling back on Twitter and – even, or especially, during this election year – news media.

Here’s to a healthy, peaceful, and sane 2020, friends.